How Labour lost (and how we might lose again)

24th May, 2010 1:10 pm

By Declan Gaffney

The idea that Labour’s election defeat was due to the sudden desertion of the party by skilled working class voters – known as ‘C2’s in the jargon of market research – has gained widespread currency, reflected in the convergence of most of the candidates for the leadership around certain themes: notably immigration and welfare reform.

As Liam Byrne put it in a Progress pamphlet published on Friday:

“These voters are the bedrock of our coalition. But their support for Labour has fallen off a cliff. In 2005, 43% of C2’s were Labour. Now Mori say it’s down 20%, to just 23%.”

How accurate is this picture? Estimates released by Mori on Friday allow us to compare Labour’s vote share among different social groups since 1997 on a consistent basis. While this sort of analysis is not an exact science, and different methodologies will yield different results, these are the best estimates we have to go on at the moment, and they tell a more complex story.

On these figures, Labour’s vote share among the ‘C2’ demographic did fall in 2010, but by 11 percentage points, rather than 20 (see chart, below).*

Declan Chart

Secondly, on Mori’s figures, the fall in the C2 vote share in 2010 was nothing new. In 2005, Labour’s share in this group fell by 9 percentage points. This suggests that Labour’s problem with the C2 demographic is longer term in nature than the narrative offered by Liam Byrne indicates.

Thirdly, Labour lost vote share across all these demographics in 2005 and 2010. While the fall among C2’s is proportionally greatest, it looks like part of a broader pattern.

Fourthly, consider what has happened to Labour’s share of the lower income DE demographic since 1997. In 1997, Labour had 59% of votes in this group; by 2010, this was down to 40%. Liam Byrne’s pamphlet virtually ignores this group, which is no less important in terms of Labour’s share of the national popular vote than the C2’s. (Lower turnout among DE’s is offset by the greater size of the group.)

These figures do not, on the face of it, support the sort of post-election narrative offered by Progress or the leadership candidates so far. They suggest that Labour’s electoral problems are longer term in nature and more widely spread across social groups.

Much of the post-election debate has been couched in terms of how to win back the C2 vote. But there is little reason to think that task can be accomplished by focussing on this demographic in isolation. Meanwhile, there is another question which nobody seems to be asking. How did Labour, with its highly redistributionary policies, manage to lose nearly a third of its vote share among the lowest income demographic while in government?

There will be no simple answer to that question, but the very invisibility of this group in Labour’s post-election narrative points to one line of explanation. Labour’s political strategy has long been concentrated on maintaining what was seen as the winning coalition of C2’s and more affluent voters of 1997. For many in the party, the most persuasive argument for this approach lay in the progressive policies Labour pursued in power, which directly benefited lower income groups. But the political strategy meant that voters in these groups were not an important target of Labour’s political messaging. Could it be that many lower income voters stopped supporting a party which often spoke about them but rarely addressed itself to them?

*The difference is easily explained. The figure cited in the Progress pamphlet used an earlier estimate by Mori produced just after the election, which gave Labour a lower share of the C2 vote for 2010, and combined it with an estimate of Labour’s 2005 share from a different source, which gave Labour a higher share than Mori.

Source for graph: Ipsos-Mori ‘How Britain voted’ 1997, 2001, 2005, 2010′

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Comment Featured Ken Livingstone is a pariah and must be expelled from Labour

    Ken Livingstone is a pariah and must be expelled from Labour

      Ken Livingstone is finished in the Labour Party. His bizarre Hitler rant has succeeded in uniting Corbynista and centrist Labour MPs, as well as the entirety of the mainstream press, in condemnation. He has been suspended and will surely be expelled. For many in the Labour Party, it cannot come soon enough. Livingstone has disgraced himself one time too many and, if he is bowing out, it will be with perhaps his most toxic intervention yet. His comments about […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News MPs slam Cameron’s right to buy plan over lack of detail

    MPs slam Cameron’s right to buy plan over lack of detail

    David Cameron’s controversial plan to sell off housing association properties to tenants at a discount has today come under fire from an influential group of MPs for huge gaps in the detail. The public accounts committee, chaired by Labour’s Meg Hillier, has several concerns over the Right to Buy scheme, criticising a lack of detail, concerns that it may worsen the housing crisis and that the scheme may be open to abuse. The report condemns the Government for only providing […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Exclusive: Corbyn aide named new Unite political director

    Exclusive: Corbyn aide named new Unite political director

    Unite has boosted its relationship with Jeremy Corbyn’s team by recruiting one of his key lieutenants. Anneliese Midgley, Jeremy Corbyn’s deputy chief of staff, has been appointed as political director of Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union. Midgley, who helped organise Corbyn’s leadership campaign over the summer, has served as deputy to Simon Fletcher since September. She will start her new role in the next few weeks, replacing Jennie Formby, who moved to be the South East Regional Secretary last month.  […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Uncategorized Michael Gove is cynically trying to exploit the EU small print to boost his Brexit campaign – Richard Corbett

    Michael Gove is cynically trying to exploit the EU small print to boost his Brexit campaign – Richard Corbett

    I am somewhat shocked that a man with a reputation for intellectual rigour should throw so many distortions, half truths and lies into his attempt to “launch the Brexit fightback” after a miserable week. Michael Gove started his Times piece with a sweeping statement that nothing has changed in the EU because, er, the treaties have not been changed. That is like saying that in domestic politics (and his article starts with a long list of Government “reforms” to schools, tax, welfare, […]

    Read more →
  • News Ken Livingstone must be expelled from party, Labour MPs demand

    Ken Livingstone must be expelled from party, Labour MPs demand

    Labour figures are calling on the party to permanently expel Ken Livingstone as thousands sign a petition demanding John Mann be suspended for his confrontation with the former London mayor. This comes as a Jeremy Corbyn campaign visit to Wales was cancelled today amid the row over handling of anti-Semitism in the party. MP Jess Phillips has become the latest to say Livingstone – suspended yesterday – should be thrown out for his remarks about Hitler, Zionism and the influence […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit